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Reshaping the planet

07 December 2021

7 min. to read

Landscape lab © Cleo Goossens
As a US citizen who came to study for a Master’s degree at the Royal Academy in The Hague, Katie Pelikan soon became interested in the Dutch landscape and the national parks that reminded her of her home state of Maryland. The resulting work is a project, entitled Landscape Lab, based around real places and ecologies – het Verdronken Land van Saeftinghe, Kijfhoek en Bierlap, and Tiengemeten.
Katie Pelikan © Cleo Goossens

What can we learn from our attempts to reshape and model the planet? What does this remodelling tell us about humanity and our desires, needs and capabilities managing our environment? Our relationship to nature has been seen as a resource at our disposal. Mining, food production and reclaiming land from the sea, all part of our landscape.

Renegotiating our relationship with nature

The Netherlands is a rich source for inspiration when it comes to reshaping nature and our environment. “The landscape here has a huge impact on people," says Katie, but I wanted to be careful not to make a sarcastic project. I didn't want to criticise the manmade nature of the Netherlands. Instead, I position the project as if humans have influence and have touched all aspects of nature. In a way, there is no natural wilderness anymore. The Netherlands is a perfect place to renegotiate our relationship with nature because the myth of wilderness should not exist here, but I am positioning that it does!” 

Miniature modelling

The result is a film and a real-life model layout based on het Verdronken Land van Saeftinghe, Kijfhoek en Bierlap, and Tiengemeten with a central fictional figure - 'the expert', who would like to, paradoxically, control all nature and create national park landscape modules that are exported to the rest of the world from the Netherlands. Memories of childhood and passionate hobbyists spring to mind. One could be forgiven for thinking that Katie is a model railway or miniature wargame Warhammer hobbyist, she did in fact turn to these communities for advice.  “I learned most of my model making techniques from model train enthusiasts on YouTube videos and chatting with the guys in my neighbourhood model shop. I suppose for both hobbies, there is a lot of care put into the constructing of accurate landscapes, even though they serve as backdrops for both the figures and trains," says Katie.

Visitors become giants

One interesting possible reflection to be gained from Katie’s project is the ‘playing God’ mentality that we may have with our environment. The aesthetics at work here may suggest that we may be playing our own ‘wargames’ with our planet. “I would say that the optimisation, rather than gamification, of the landscape, is perhaps a bit closer to what I wanted to happen", explains Katie, “I became quite obsessed with imagery of architects and planners gathering around models to make big decisions. Models felt like a natural medium to talk about control, overview, and dominance. They are places of representation but also places of gathering. I wanted visitors also to have this experience when they walked in – becoming giants over the miniaturised parks.”

Where do we go from here?

Katie's exploration into the relationship between humanity and harnessing nature is something increasingly rich in terms of conversation around environment and climate change. Many visitors to Dutch Design Week seek dialogue around ‘where next?’ for yielding possible future insights into our collective relationship with our locale.  “I was lucky to have some deeper conversations with people working for different municipalities around the Netherlands," says Katie, looking to the future. “In particular, I'm very eager to collaborate with people working for nature organisations such as Natuurmonumenten or Stadsbosbeheer. As opposed to the US, I find that Dutch government organisations are quite open to collaborating with artists and designers that bring a critical perspective, which is so important. Even though my project is poking fun at the flaws of conservation, I hope that my sincerity is evident, and I would really like to collaborate with other disciplines to answer the question: where do we go from here?”